The Story of Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone part 4

John poses with his machine gun

Iwo Jima

While at Camp Pendleton John met a woman Marine Sergeant Lena Mae Riggi and love blossomed. After dating for several months, they married on July 10th, 1944. Just one month later, on August 11th, 1944, orders were given for the Marines to ship out of Camp Pendleton. John packed up and said good-bye to his new wife, boarded his ship, and sailed with the rest of the Marines for Iwo Jima

On February 19th, 1945 the Marines arrived at Iwo Jima and were ready to attack., The Navy had bombarded the island for 36 days. Some Marines hoped this intense bombing would allow them to take the island with little resistance. However, there were 22,000 Japanese warriors who were well dug in, heavily armed, and prepared to die. The first U.S. invasion force landed on the beach at 9:05 AM. John Basilone’s group landed around 9:30 AM. They were surprised to find little opposition. The Marines got up on the beach and noticed that their feet could barely move in the soft black volcanic sand of Iwo Jima. For one hour, the U.S. was able to get their transports up to the beach and unload the men without major resistance. Then, with the beach crowded with U.S. soldiers, the Japanese began their counter attack. Suddenly the Japanese from their hidden blockhouses began firing away at the exposed U.S. troops. The Marines were getting annihilated. Survivors later wondered how anyone survived the initial Japanese barrage. The U.S. forces were on the beach, but they had little or no cover, were still disorganized, and had not yet gotten enough heavy equipment ashore to defend against this type of attack. The troops had trained for years, but nothing could prepare them for what was happening all around them. The soldiers would later say how frustrated they were that they could not see the enemy to fight back. The Japanese counterattack had stalled the U.S. invasion. Most Marines were hiding in the sand. The beach was littered with damaged vehicles, equipment, and dead soldiers. The invasion was not moving. Brave men with leadership ability were needed to rally the troops. John Basilone rose to the occasion. Many survivors of the battle recall that in the midst of the battle, with everyone hunkered down in the sand, there was one Marine out in the open, running around, directing men. It was John Basilone. He first guided a tank out of a mine field. Only a few tanks came a shore and they were needed to knock out Japanese blockhouses. John had noticed a particular Japanese bunker had been effectively shooting mortar shells and raging deadly fire upon the U.S. troops. This enemy strong position “had to go”. John found and organized some machine gunners along with demolition men and directed them toward the bunker. John Basilone instructed a demolition man to blow a hole in the concrete structure, while others gave cover against other nearby enemy positions. A large explosion went off opening part of the bunker. Basilone then told the enthused machine gunners to hold their fire and directed a flamethrower operator to charge the pit. The brave flamethrower charged the pit as quickly as he could, stuck his nozzle in the pit and ignited the flame. Some of the Japanese soldiers ran out of the pit screaming as they tried to wipe away the jellied gasoline that was burning them. John Basilone cut them down with a machine gun. Fellow soldier, Charles Tatum, said “for me and others … who saw Basilone’s leadership and courage during our assault, his example was overwhelming.” After knocking out the bunker, Basilone led twenty men off the exposed beach area to a location where they could take some cover and plan their next move. He ordered the men to stay while he went back to get more men and some heavy machine guns. John Basilone gathered some troops and weapons and started back across the beach to the waiting soldiers. But John was hit with a Japanese mortar shell which landed right in the middle of him and the men he was leading. He died from his wounds around thirty minutes later.

For his actions that day, John Basilone was awarded The Navy Cross. The military paid tribute to John by naming a ship after him. An anti-submarine Navy Destroyer, the U.S.S. Basilone was commissioned on July 26th, 1949. His home town of Raritan honors him every year with a parade. The first parade was in 1981. For 22 years, the parade has been held, rain or shine. It attracts thousands of spectators. It is the pride of the town of Raritan. John Basilone remains the only soldier (non-officer) in U.S. history to be awarded both The Congressional Medal of Honor and The Navy Cross. He is also the only Medal of Honor winner to go back into combat and be killed in combat.

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